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Friday Night Organ: How does this thing WORK!
I have received a lot of inquires about classical music in general but the organ specifically. What is this musical instrument? Sure we've heard them in church and occasionally in concert. But each organ is a unique individual. Violins are with rare exception pretty much the same, so are trumpets, guitars and oboes. Just about all musical instruments have remained unchanged for centuries and they are the same no matter where you go in the world. They look the same and with minor variation sound the same. And that is another thing. Most musical instruments can be transported from point A to point B without much hassle; Most organ on the other hand are rooted to the spot they were created. They can't come to you---YOU have to come to them. So tonight we will forgo the usual fair and instead take a look at the instrument itself. What does it all mean? The forest of pipes, the different key boards, all registers, ranks, divisions, all those knob and buttons.
Here is a little history courtesy of Wikipedia:
The organ is one of the oldest instruments still used in European classical music. Its earliest predecessors were built in Ancient Greece in the 3rd century BC. The word organ is derived from the Greek όργανον (organon), a generic term for an instrument or a tool, via the Latin organum, an instrument similar to a portative organ used in ancient Roman circus games. The Greek engineer Ctesibius of Alexandria is credited with inventing the organ in the 3rd century BC. He devised an instrument called the hydraulis, which delivered a wind supply maintained through water pressure to a set of pipes. The hydraulis was played in the arenas of the Roman Empire. The pumps and water regulators of the hydraulis were replaced by an inflated leather bag in the 2nd century AD, and true bellows began to appear in the Eastern Roman Empire in the 6th or 7th century AD. Some 400 pieces of a hydraulis from the year 228 AD have been revealed during the 1931 archaeological excavations in the former Roman town Aquincum, province of Pannonia (present day Budapest), which was used as a music instrument by the Aquincum fire dormitory; a modern replica produces an enjoyable sound.
The 9th century Persian geographer Ibn Khurradadhbih (d. 911), in his lexicographical discussion of instruments, cited the urghun (organ) as one of the typical instruments of the Eastern Roman Empire. It was often used in the Hippodrome in the imperial capital of Constantinople. The first Western pipe organ with "great leaden pipes" was sent from Constantinople to the West by the Byzantine emperor Constantine V as a gift to Pepin the Short King of the Franks in 757. Pepin's son Charlemagne requested a similar organ for his chapel in Aachen in 812, beginning its establishment in Western church music.
I should note something here. Yes the pipes of the oldest organs were lead, or a lead tin composite but due to the weight of the lead pipes were not very large otherwise over time they would slowly droop and collapse.
Portable organs (the portative and the positive organ) were invented in the Middle Ages. Towards the middle of the 13th century, the portatives represented in the miniatures of illuminated manuscripts appear to have real keyboards with balanced keys, as in the Cantigas de Santa Maria. Its portability made the portative useful for the accompaniment of both sacred and secular music in a variety of settings.
In the 11th century, the monk Theophilus described in his treatise, known as Schedula diversarum artium ("List of various arts") or De diversis artibus ("On various arts"), all of the steps required for the construction of a church organ. The instrument described by Theophilus was operated by a system of knobs and drones. Air pressure was maintained by stepping on air-filled hoses positioned at the player's feet.
Large organs such as the one installed in 1361 in Halberstadt, Germany, the first documented permanent organ installation, likely prompted Guillaume de Machaut to describe the organ as "the king of instruments", a characterization still frequently applied. The Halberstadt organ was the first instrument to use a chromatic key layout across its three manuals and pedalboard, although the keys were wider than on modern instruments. It had twenty bellows operated by ten men, and the wind pressure was so high that the player had to use the full strength of his arm to hold down a key.
Until the mid-15th century, organs had no stop controls. Each manual controlled ranks at multiple pitches, known as the Blockwerk. Around 1450, controls were designed that allowed the ranks of the Blockwerk to be played individually. These devices were the forerunners of modern stop actions. The higher-pitched ranks of the Blockwerk remained grouped together under a single stop control; these stops developed into mixtures.
Obviously beginning in the mid 15th century the technology took off---organs were increasingly made larger and more complex. So on to the videos. First up is a gentleman from Australia who is going to take us on a tour of the organ of Scared Heart Cathedral in Victoria Australia. I know seems a strange place to start but this guy does a really good job explaining things and not being "long-winded" about it. As a point of reference most Australia instruments follow the voicing and outlay of their English cousins. So the sound is decidedly English.
Next up is a tour of the Kotzschmar Organ in Portland Main. (Town Hall) Admittedly the guy taking us on this tour is a bit creepy for some reason, but this gives a GREAT behind the facade look at the inner workings and mechanics---And I learned a little something. I have this instrument on CD and I didn't know that all but 1/2 dozen or so of the facade pipes were non-functioning decorations.
We'll end the tour with the Fisk Organ of Furman University. It is not a totally Germanic organ BUT it is what is called a "direct tracker action" instrument and the genetlman taking us on the tour does a great job explaining this feature.
Well I hope this helps "demystify" the mechanics of the King of Instruments. As many of you already know and I shall now reiterate I have no musical talent whatsoever. I would play a tambourine off key. My Hungarian, chain smoking piano teacher took one look at may hands when I was 11 and told me I was a "Ucigas", which a Romanian friend of mine told me years ago means butcher. (He also said the guy wasn't Hungarian---don't know what that is all about) So the piano and I parted ways as my teacher felt I should embark on a career cutting up pork chops and stuffing sausage.
Well I'm also Swabian and we love machines--the bigger, louder and more complicated the better. So I fell in love with the mechanics of the pipe organ and well the music followed.
As an aside I tried music again as a teenager--the trumpet. My old man figured if I cannot handle 88 keys maybe I can handle 3. Wrong again back to the pork chops. So you guys WITH musical talent...(Joe Tech, Uly et al.......I hate you.)
Damn Pete, can that beast also do my dishes and transform into a Panzer Mark V?
I have a cathedral view of Sacred Heart Bendigo from my bedroom window....Is that creepy?
PBS had a great documentary on rebuilding a pipe organ. It is the worlds largest pipe organ, the Midmer-Losh pipe organ, living inside the Boardwalk Hall Auditorium in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It has 34,600 pipes and the largest pipes stand at 65' tall!
They took it all apart and rebuilt it, showing every step. I can't seem to find the whole show on YouTube, here is a shortened version.
Do NOT chase tail. Turn yours around and live FREE!
Thanks Old-Buck I actually saw that video and was tempted to use it but that is a fairly modern instrument and I was wanted to focus on the traditional construction. There is a video I didn't include but I wanted to---Its about the Flentrop organ in the Church of the Advent in Spartanberg SC. It is a completely mechanical action instrument in the north German tradition BUT I found the article after I did the post.
SmileyBro: you're going to have to stop in there and give us first hand account!
Kenobi---what am I going to do with you man? It might not wash dishes but it can BLOW them dry!
It gets worse: I happen to be an organist!
HOLY SHIT Smileybro! Good for you man. I actually met Cameron Carpenter---before he exploded into trans/sex/gayism. I saw him play several times in Asheville NC when he was 17. Guy was amazing.